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A Province Gasping for Air

Updated: Apr 24

A home is a precious place. It is a site of play for some, learning for many, and comfort for all. A home provides a place to relax after a long day of work, and breathe tranquility to recuperate from the mental and physical dolor that tests even the strongest wills each day. Home to 14.9 million people, Ontario is poised to welcome thousands more as the provincial government has formulated an ambitious plan to expand the number of dwellings in our province in response to this expected wave of immigration. Soon, Ontarians will ostensibly welcome dozens of new neighbours with whom to play, learn, and share in all of life’s joys together. Yet, these rosy scenes of new friendships and shared comforts are programmed to come at a dubious cost. As Queens Park prepares to add new homes to the province, the legislature will soon leave Ontario to draw its final breaths.

At the moment, all remains unchanged. However, the decision to begin carving out the lungs of Southern Ontario stem from a history of inadequate policy planning. As young people are painfully aware, living in this country is no easy task. Whether we’re looking for a place to rent or buy, we’re priced out of nearly all dwellings. While youth are currently facing the brunt of Canada’s housing crisis, this problem is not new. In fact, since the early 1970s, Canada’s housing supply has failed to meet housing demand. This has contributed to today’s staggering prices for both homes and rental units.

To tackle this problem, the Premier of Ontario recently announced the More Homes Built Faster plan. As a part of this plan, the province aims to repurpose land on the Greenbelt, opening this area up for urban development.

Originally, the Greenbelt was protected in 2005 with the purpose of preventing uncontrolled urban growth so that objectives like housing development wouldn’t interfere with environmental and agricultural protections in Ontario’s Greater Golden Horseshoe. More specifically, the Greenbelt was designed to:

  • “preserve agricultural land as a continuing commercial source of food and employment”;

  • “provide protection to the land base needed to maintain, restore and improve the ecological and hydrological functions of the Greenbelt Area”;

  • And “promote sustainable resource use”;

Running contrary to these aims, the Premier’s proposed changes to the Greenbelt will open 7400 acres to development, compensating for this damage by adding 9400 acres on the Paris Galt Moraine area near Guelph . This 2000 acre difference is of no benefit to the province. Instead, it represents a significant risk to the future of Ontario’s environmental and food security.

The Greenbelt is responsible for supplying Ontario with fresh, filtered groundwater. Moreover, the region protects surrounding communities from floods during severe storms, keeping residents and properties safe and keeping reconstruction costs down. The provinces’ development plans expose communities to these risks. This is most evident in zones 2 through 8 of the plan as they allow developers to build directly around protected rivers, interfering with the Greenbelt’s natural water management capacity (see figure 1).

Figure 1. Overview Map (Environmental Registry of Ontario)

Agricultural land is also at risk with the provinces’ redevelopment plan. At present, farmland comprises 40% of the Greenbelt. This includes land which grows rare and special crops such as the Holland Marsh and the Niagara Tender Fruit and Grape Area.

More than 450,000 acres of farmland have been repurposed in Southern Ontario since 1991. This problem is even more pressing as agricultural areas outside the Greenbelt lack adequate protections and are at risk of being paved over. With agricultural land continuing to dwindle at a rapid pace, ensuring that the Greenbelt remains protected is a priority for all of Ontario.

Not long ago, the problem we are currently facing was unthinkable even under the current provincial government. However, Susan Elliott from the Toronto Star said it best by stating that current changes to the lungs of Ontario represent “a broken promise. Ford said earlier that ‘we won’t touch the Greenbelt.’ It’s a bad message about a bad policy.” What’s the consequence of this broken promise? Frankly, “a bad lesson to learn from life for anyone. For young people, it teaches [us] to not value institutions. It doesn’t build trust. It does not support citizenship skills.”

Worst of all, it places the burden of protecting the public good and renegotiating good legislation created in the public interest of all Ontario.

Looking beyond the Greenbelt, it becomes possible to find alternative areas upon which to build new homes. On the same day that the region’s new development plans were announced, the province also revealed that 17,675 hectares (43,676 acres) of land were approved for development across five Greenbelt adjacent regions.

  • Peel region will be adding 4,647 hectares (or 11,483 acres) of new urban land;

  • York Region, will add 3,878 hectares;

  • Urban development in Halton Region will increase by 3,350 hectares;

  • The urban boundary in Hamilton will grow by 2,200 hectares;

  • And Durham Region is adding an additional 3,600 hectares.

In light of these development expansions, one must regard the decision to jeopardize the Greenbelt not only as preventable, but unnecessary. Indeed, as far as housing is concerned, development across these five regions is 5.9 times greater (by area) than that being planned in the Greenbelt. Best of all, building homes across these 17,675 acres of land is that they do not expose Ontarians to flooding or food insecurity.

Due to the actions being considered by the government, Engage will take part in Ontario’s Greenbelt consultation. We urge all Ontarians to do the same, but especially youth as the decisions taken by the province will affect us longer than anyone else.

Without youth leading a loud chorus in opposition to the Greenbelt plan, Ontario will draw its final breath sooner than anyone would want.

Written By: Anjelica Ramsewack, Co-Founder - Engage

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